Here’s the deal worked out between the House and Senate, Budget stalemate ends in Austin.
Breaking a budget impasse with days left in the 2013 session, House and Senate members approved key elements Wednesday of a two-year spending plan that boosts education funding and addresses a looming water shortage.
House members voted 130-16 on a proposed constitutional amendment, Senate Joint Resolution 1, that would create a state revolving bank to fund billions of dollars in local and regional water projects over the next half-century. The House vote went well beyond the two-thirds majority needed to pass the measure.
Across the Capitol, the Senate voted 28-3 to give final approval to a companion supplemental budget, House Bill 1025, that includes a $2 billion drawdown from the state’s rainy-day fund for the proposed water bank.
The Senate-passed measure also includes $200 million of the overall $3.9 billion in increased public school money proposed in the overall agreement negotiated by House and Senate budget writers last week.
The budget compact, which is spread over several documents, has been bogged down for nearly a week over infighting and distrust between the two chambers. House members were forced to suspend rules to defer consideration of SJR1 until Wednesday after coming perilously close to a Tuesday night deadline that would have killed the measure.
Among the spending in the bill: $2 billion for the state’s water plan, $185 million for wildfire suppression, $1.75 billion to reverse the already planned delay of school payments in August, $30 million for veterans’ college tuition subsidies, $10 million for the Student Success Initiative, $175 million in bonds for campus construction, $450 million for roads in successful oil field areas, $5 million for repairs and renovations in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, and $5 million for repairs at state parks for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
The allocations in this measure include drawing nearly $4 billion from the rainy-day fund in addition to about $2 billion in spending from dedicated tax money and general-purpose revenue.
Soon it will be in Gov. Rick Perry’s hands.
The budget package also includes $1 billion in tax and fee reductions. The proposal falls short of Gov. Rick Perry’s demand for $1.8 billion in tax relief, and the governor has not indicated whether the level in the budget would meet his threshold.
Perry, the state’s longest-serving governor, has threatened to call a special session if lawmakers don’t address his priorities of water, transportation and tax relief. Budget issues, gun legislation and redistricting have also been cited as potential topics for a 30-day special session.
The Texas Tribune has a much more on what transpired yesterday, House and Senate Pass Measures Key to Budget Deal.
After days of jockeying and one-upsmanship, the Texas House and Senate each approved measures Wednesday evening critical to passing their next two-year budget.
“The results of these two bills together is a good conservative budget, and it’s something we can all be proud of,” said Senate Finance Chairman Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands.
With just five days left in the legislative session, both chambers needed to at least tentatively pass separate measures by midnight as part of a larger budget deal agreed to by leaders from both chambers last week.
The Senate voted 29-3 for House Bill 1025. Sens. Dan Patrick, R-Houston; Ken Paxton, R-McKinney; and Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, voted against the measure.
The negotiations over how exactly to approve the two measures exposed deep tensions between the House and Senate as lawmakers on both sides pushed for the other chamber to move first out of concerns that the other side might not keep its word.
Ultimately, Williams brought up HB 1025 at 5:45 p.m. While senators were still discussing that bill, the House began debate on SJR 1 just before 8 p.m.
The House’s Tea Party contingent put up a noisy fight against SJR 1, arguing it was made up of accounting gimmicks and was fiscally dishonest. The chamber’s budget writers — at times exasperated — said they were letting Texas voters decide if they wanted to spend the money to alleviate the state’s water problems.
House lawmakers shot down two amendments — one by state Rep. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, and another by state Rep. Van Taylor, R-Plano — to try to put constitutional limits on water funding from the state’s Rainy Day Fund.
“We’re fundamentally changing the way we’re going to do state budgeting going forward,” Perry argued.
State Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, agreed, adding, “We’re expanding the role, the scope and the size of state government unnecessarily.”
House Speaker Joe Straus praised his chamber for passing the measure.
“The House took an important step today toward securing the reliable water supply needed for continued economic growth,” Straus said. “In the coming days I expect the House to conclude a very successful session by taking the final votes necessary to address our water needs, pass a balanced budget, improve public education and make state government more transparent and efficient.”
If Perry doesn’t veto the budget, then there will be no need for a special session on the budget. More from the Statesman, Key budget bills pass as legislators break impasse.
The budget still has several hurdles to cross before it crosses the finish line. Here’s the late word from the Texas Tribune last night.
Despite looming deadlines, the House postponed on Monday a vote on Senate Joint Resolution 1, which would allow voters to decide whether to set up a fund for water infrastructure projects. The budget deal conferees reached on Friday hinges on that legislation, which must be approved by the House on Tuesday.
Here’s more about where the fault lines are:
As House Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts expressed optimism that the Legislature would approve a budget in time to avoid a special session, others were still expressing uncertainty as a pair of critical votes were set to take place Monday.
The 2014-15 deal that budget conferees reached Friday hinges on the approval of Senate Joint Resolution 1, which would ask voters to create a fund for water infrastructure projects, and House Bill 1025, a supplemental appropriations bill for the 2012-13 budget. SJR 1 is on the House’s Monday calendar, while HB 1025 is on the calendar in the Senate.
“I didn’t hear any outcry of negative attitude,” Pitts, R-Waxahachie, said Monday afternoon after a House Republican Caucus meeting on the budget deal. He expressed confidence that the Legislature would avoid a special session on the budget.
“I said if you’re not going to vote for it, please let us know and we’ll try to clear up any questions,” he said.
The House will need 100 votes to approve SJR 1, which means the measure will need support from some Tea Party Republicans and Democrats.
“We committed to being for it, but we’re not sure where we are right now,” said House Democratic leader Yvonne Davis of Dallas. She said Democrats are still working to confirm that their request to add $200 million to public education has been met, before they’ll confirm whether they’ll vote for SJR 1.
Some Tea Party legislators also expressed concern about the deal.
“I am opposed to the infrastructure and water plan, not because I’m against water — because who could be against water? — but because I am concerned about investment in commercial banking,” said state Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview. He warned that the $2 billion could be doled out “based on political corruptions.”
“I have not seen [the budget] completely, but I am very concerned. We’ve spent too much money across the board,” said state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford. “I want to make sure there’s no budget gimmicks, that’s a big part of my platform.”
Pitts said the budget conferees have worked to wean the Legislature off “budget gimmicks,” by stopping the diversion of $400 million in dedicated revenue to certify the budget.
In other words not much has changed, and the votes still need to be taken. We can only assume that if they knew they had the votes yesterday, they would have taken the vote. The DMN sheds more light on the situation, Texas budget negotiations stumble amid questions on tax cuts, school funds.
House and Senate leaders struggled Monday to protect their complicated deal on the two-year state budget.
The two chambers’ budget chiefs clashed over whether a tax-relief package should rely heavily on rebates of a fee on electricity bills.
House Democrats demanded assurances that extra money for public schools will be added to an emergency spending bill.
And a leading conservative group urged House members to reject a constitutional amendment creating a structure for a new infrastructure bank that would help finance water projects.
“This is a very complicated and interrelated puzzle,” said Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, referring to about a half-dozen or more bills that comprise the budget deal.
House Republicans went behind closed doors for a Q-and-A session on the deal during Monday’s lunch break.
On Friday, Senate budget chief Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, said giving back about $630 million of the electric fees was “a very important component” of the budget deal.
On Monday, though, Pitts, R-Waxahachie, called that “a deal that [Williams] made with two House members that were not” part of the group that negotiated the budget compromise. Budget leaders later met with Williams, who has made a priority of the proposed rebates of the fee, known as the System Benefit Fund. [Emphasis added]
House Democrats held their own private huddle. Afterward, caucus leaders said members want assurances that the Senate will add a last dollop of money the Democrats won for public schools, $200 million, to one of the must-pass bills.
Democrats’ only leverage to influence the budget negotiators lay in their ability to stop a constitutional amendment creating the water fund and a draw down of rainy day money, both of which needed two-thirds approval.
But never discount politics as a sticking point, Is the road back for Democrats paved with education dollars?
When they prevailed, Democrats didn’t crow, pointing out that the public school funding still was short of the amount cut. They also gave Republicans their due.
“It’s not perfect. It is significant. It does represent what can happen when both sides are willing to listen to each other and work together,” said Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio. “Republicans and Democrats are putting their best foot forward.”
Of course, budget dealing isn’t over. With a week to go in the special session and details still to be worked out, it all could fall apart.
Still transportation, Texas highway funding gets crumbs in budget deal, and the uninsured, House Gives Early OK to Medicaid Expansion Ban, are getting stiffed. More from the Statesman, Budget stalls; tax ‘relief’ mired in legislative confusion.
It’s probably still more likely then unlikely that a budget gets done, but what the final product will look like is still in flux.
As we went from deal to no deal on Thursday and Friday, finally a budget deal emerged. In a session that many thought the budget would be a much easier then usual, because the state had a surplus, it didn’t end that way. Texas has many needs that have been neglected over the years, and even with a surplus, there wasn’t enough to make up for that neglect and put back funding that was cut last session. And there was little will, in the majority, to use the Economic Stabilization Fund (ESF) to make up for that.
While I agree with what BOR said about the budget deal for Democrats.
Today was a huge win for the Democratic members of our Texas Legislature: they held firm in budget negotiations and restored $3.9 billion in funding to public education.In 2011, the Republican supermajority slashed $5.4 billion from our public schools, resulting in teachers losing their jobs and school children being unable to gain a competitive education. Restoring those funds has been a priority for Democrats this session. Today, Democrats held firm and struck a deal that restores $3.9 billion, which is the best that 55 Democrats in the House and 12 in the Senate can realistically do.
Pragmatically, this is the best we can do with Republicans in charge of our state who still seek to shortchange our children, and represents practically the highest dollar amount discussed to be restored to public education this session.
Of course $3.9 billion is better then $2.4 billion in education. And the Democrats deserve much credit for sticking to that. But the truly sad part is that a state with so much money right now, is hoarding so much of it while there are still so many in need. Millions without health care, so many hungry and suffering. It’s likely that we’ll start next session with a surplus too, another low estimate for this biennium from the Comptroller.
No matter how much money Texas has next session, we’re likely to be further behind two years from now. Because our state elected leaders continue to neglect funding what can truly make a state better off for all. Education, infrastructure, health and the welfare of those in need. Instead they will focus on tax cuts and keeping taxes low for those who have so much.
Dave Montgomery has a good summary of what’s in the budget, Lawmakers make a deal to boost school funding.
With time running out, legislative negotiators on Friday forged a two-year spending plan that includes an additional $3.9 billion for education, offsetting deep cuts imposed in public school funding two years ago.
The spending package, spread over three pieces of legislation, also calls for a total 3 percent pay increase for state employees as well as commitments to $2 billion in long-range water funding and at least $1 billion in tax relief.
Members of both Houses have just over a week to ratify the 2014-15 budget before lawmakers draw the curtain on their 140-day legislative session on May 27.
Gov. Rick Perry, who has threatened to call members back to work in special session if lawmakers don’t meet his demands on water, transportation and tax relief, is reserving judgment on the budget until it passes the Legislature, said a spokesman.
“We will take a look at the bill and make a decision on it once the Legislature sends it to us in its final form,” said deputy press secretary Josh Havens.
Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, the number two member of the House Democratic leadership, called the budget a “a good compromise.”
“I wish the Legislature would fully restore the money that was slashed two years ago but this is a compromise and a positive development and I believe I can support this budget,” said the Tarrant County House member. “While it’s not perfect, it’s a big improvement.”
In contrast to the 2011 session, this year’s proposed budget reflects a statewide economic rebound that gave lawmakers a robust $101 billion in tax revenue, money used to at least partially roll back the cuts from two years ago.
Williams said the budget also calls for a “very significant increase” of about 8 percent for public-funded colleges and universities and about 16 percent for health-related institutions. Community colleges will get a “richer funding formula” under the proposal, Williams said.
Cuts in taxes and fees will total “just north” of $1 billion, Williams said. Perry outlined tax relief as a major priority in his State of the State Address in February, calling for a total package of $1.8 billion.
The plan would also restore reductions in the popular Texas Grants student assistance, providing enough money to reach about 83 percent of eligible students, said budget writers.
Under the proposed salary package, the nearly 220,000 state employees will get a 1 percent pay boost in 2014, followed by a 2 percent increase in 2015.
As part of the multi-faceted budget process, members of the House Appropriations Committee approved a constitutional amendment that, if ratified by voters, would create a revolving bank to fund local projects under the state water plan.
The $2 billion to capitalize the fund would come through a drawdown from the state’s nearly $12 billion rainy day fund, proposed in a supplemental budget that will be considered next week.
The commitment to water salvages what appeared to be a doomed effort to fund the 50-year state plan to help Texas confront what planners say is a looming water shortage in the nation’s second most populous state. A water funding bill was killed by a point of order in the House and reviving the proposal was a top priority of budget negotiators.
Leaving $10 billion in the ESF while so many needs still go unmet is wrong. If budgets are moral documents then this one is still wanting.
The budget talks right now are a very fluid situation right now. And there’s an effort afoot to blame the Democrats for the current impasse. It’s BS as Rep. Sylvester Tuner (D-Houston) says via Peggy Fikac, Budget Hardball.
Democrats are standing firm on an infusion of $3.9 billion for public education, Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, said Thursday, accusing Republicans of moving the goalposts in the budget debate.
“We have never changed,” Turner said.
Turner, speaking after Democrats caucused Thursday, said the agreement with House GOP leadership was that schools would get $2.5 billion in general revenue in the House version of the state budget for the next two years.
In addition, he said, the agreement was that schools would keep $1.4 billion that otherwise could be re-routed by the state due to higher local school property tax revenues.
Schools are funded by a combination of state, local and federal money. When local revenues rise, the state obligation decreases. The amount that could be freed in state general revenue in this way is $1.4 billion, money that has come into play in budget negotiations.
Turner said that Democrats in return would give their support toward the two-thirds vote needed to spend money from the rainy day fund for water infrastructure and for a proposed constitutional amendment to dedicate the money, allowing Republicans to avoid breaking the spending cap.
In addition, Turner said, Democrats weren’t going to break the deal when Republicans said they’d re-route another $500 million that the House had agreed to give schools in the current fiscal year, potentially to roads in energy-boom areas like the Eagle Ford Shale.
Turner, however, said Republicans have sought to change the deal because of apparent dissension within their own ranks.
He said that word came from House Speaker Joe Straus’s office that Gov. Rick Perry was saying it was too much money for education and that the most they could do was $3.2 billion, plus $300 million to help school districts with Teacher Retirement System costs.
Perry spokesman Josh Havens denied Wednesday night that Perry was telling lawmakers this.
“What else is new?” Turner said, steely. He said Perry should put out a clear, public statement indicating how much education revenue he supports, if that’s the case.
Turner also said that Democrats had been threatened that if they don’t agree to the GOP position, that they would face a special session in which Republicans would also find it easier to pass now-stalled anti-abortion legislation. He said the sentiment expressed, with Straus in the room, was, “If you don’t accept this deal, it will only get worse for you in the special session.” But Turner said Democrats are willing to risk that because of the important of education.
Straus spokesman Jason Embry didn’t have an immediate comment.
The House has the votes to pass the budget that was agree to earlier. The problem is the deal changed, as Burka details, and we’re supposed to believe that’s the Democrats fault? BS!
It looks like it’s going to take getting 100 votes in the House to pass a budget that will keep us from a special session. This appears to be the scheme that Pitts and Williams have come up with.
Under the agreed upon approach, the House will move forward with a proposed constitutional amendment to create the water fund — though not amendments to fund transportation and schools. But the decision to appropriate $2 billion from the rainy day fund will be made by legislators, not the voters, Pitts said.
The $2 billion will be added to a supplemental budget bill, House Bill 1025, currently awaiting Senate action. That money would be transferred to the new water fund if voters approve the constitutional amendment.
Dollars dedicated by the state constitution are not subject to the spending cap, which could appease some Republicans who had previously objected to efforts to use the rainy day fund money.
“I’m happy to see that part is solved. I’m still concerned that we haven’t addressed our state’s transportation needs. We’re still working on that,” said Williams, R-The Woodlands.
The two chambers were still discussing adding $3.2 billion to the budget for public schools, which would make a significant down payment toward restoring the $4 billion reduction in state aid made in 2011.
That amount would be more than what either chamber had approved in school money in Senate Bill 1, the two-year budget bill for 2014-15.
But that is still not enough new education money in the eyes of some Democrats, who say talk of a deal is premature. Democratic votes would be necessary to cross the 100-vote threshold required to access the rainy day fund.
“We have not signed off on any agreement, and there are 55 Democrats in the Texas House,” said state Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, a member of the conference committee negotiating the budget. “We’re interested in water, transportation and public schools, and I think it’s important for us to dance together or we just don’t dance at all.”
Even so, Pitts seemed confident that he could muster 100 votes, perhaps by getting more Republicans on board.
“You will see probably when the Senate sends (House Bill 1025) back to the House, it will include $2 billion in the rainy day fund for water, and we will pass it,” Pitts said.
In other words to get at the money in the Economic Stabilization Fund, it will take, one way or another, the House to reach the 100 vote threshold to get it passed. Getting to that number is proving to be a bit of a puzzle. The tea party members won’t vote for it at all, and the more the ESF is involved the less GOP support it gets. Democrats want transportation and education money, and to get to the right number the ESF must be involved.
As we learned earlier, the House will strip transportation and education spending of rainy day money from the constitutional amendment. And it won’t specify a dollar amount allocated for the water fund, Pitts said. Separately, the two chambers will have to vote to tap the rainy day kitty for $2 billion to start the water effort, he said.
One big question, though, is whether House Democrats will accept the budget negotiators’ decision to restore $3.2 billion of the $5.3 billion in cuts to public schools made last session. They clearly don’t like it. But will they use their only leverage, blocking the two-thirds vote needed to spend money for water from the rainy day fund?
“We need 100 votes,” Pitts said. “I’ve really been working on the floor. You saw me talking to Yvonne” Davis, the Dallas Democrat who is her party’s leader in the House.
For a time Tuesday afternoon, Gov. Rick Perry met with House members who are pushing for inclusion of $500 million in the budget to repair damage to roads caused by a flurry of oil and gas drilling activity.
“They’re close,” Perry said of budget negotiators trying to wrap up a mega-deal and avoid his threat to keep them in Austin for a special session.
Rep. Jim Keffer, one of two House energy-policy writers who along with Speaker Joe Straus met with Perry, said he hopes oilpatch roads get the $500 million — presumably, out of general-purpose state revenue.
“It’s not just the roads, it’s the whole damn economy,” said Keffer, R-Eastland.
And there are still some that haven’t given up on some money for roads. (Despite the study below, it’s likely we still need some new roads in the near future.)
It’s still more likely they get a budget done, then they don’t. The only question left is what it will and won’t include, and whether that will be enough to satisfy the Governor. One of the questions left unanswered is what happens in November if the constitutional amendment fails? It’s likely MIchael Quinn Sullivan and his tea party friends will spend a considerable amount of money trying to kill that amendment.
It’s hard to tell most times what far right legislators in Texas hold more dear. Their oath of office:
I, (name), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the duties of the office of a member of the House of Representatives of the 83nd Legislature of the State of Texas, and will to the best of my ability preserve, protect and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States and of this state, so help me God.
Or Grover’s pledge.
Keep those two things in mind as the legislative session is coming to an end. Because right now the budget fight is boiling down to how to come up with the best scheme to “fund” state government for the next two years. It appears the only way left to increase funding for water, transportation, and education is by passing SJR 1 through the House. SJR 1 is a constitutional amendment that spends close to $6 billion on water, transportation and education. It would need to be ratified by Texas voters in November.
Lead House budget negotiator Rep. Jim Pitts teased with reporters late Monday on whether his agreement to hear a pet Senate measure in committee signals a possible breakthrough in talks to wrap up the session’s remaining money disagreements and avoid a special session.
“We will have a [committee] hearing on it this week,” Pitts, the chairman of House Appropriations, said of a Senate-passed constitutional amendment.
The measure would ask voters whether to spend $5.7 billion of rainy-day dollars on highways, water projects and public schools. You can read about it by clicking here.
Previously, House leaders were highly critical of the Senate’s idea, saying it would set a bad precedent to kick budget matters to voters.
It needs 100 votes in the House to pass, and that would seem highly unlikely . Since it’s likely that anyone who votes for this will incur the wrath of Perry and the wing nuts (scorecard) for breaking the so-called Texas budget compact, but not their oath of office.
While Paul Burka’s disappointment is tied to his irrational exuberance, there was reason to be cautiously optimistic as the legislative session began. But when this is all viewed through the prism of the post below, it’s not hard to understand why things have gotten to this place. This is a golden opportunity for the extreme right too. And they would likely say they are having their best session ever. The state has plenty of money, and they’re still gutting government. For them it just doesn’t get any better. They’d likely even sign a pledge to that effect.
Where things stand with two weeks to go in the legislative session.
Capitol quest for road cash appears dead.
Budget Rider Could Lay Out Terms for Medicaid Reform.
This is a ludicrous editorial, Texas Dems hold water money hostage for school funding. Let me get this straight, we’re supposed to believe that the Democrats – who are in the minority in both houses and hold no statewide office – are responsible for holding up the water bill? I call BS.
State Rep. Lon Burnam, a Fort Worth Democrat, and I have a simmering disagreement over the House’s failure to finance a 50-year water plan. Burnam and other Democrats say they won’t give up water funding until they get school funding in trade.
The money for water infrastructure and more is available in the state’s almost $12 billion rainy-day fund. The idea is to put that much in a revolving fund to help entities across the state sell bonds for water projects. Burnam and others are blocking the way.
“House Democrats believe Texas should first restore the $5.4 billion cut from public education before spending money from the Rainy Day Fund for other issues,” Burnam and Rep. Chris Turner wrote in a letter to the editor published last week. “And since a drawdown from the Rainy Day Fund requires the support of two-thirds of the House, the minority party has more leverage than usual — and we intend to use that leverage to help our schoolchildren.”
I say the Dems are wrong. I don’t blame them for their tactics, but it’s not smart to use rainy-day fund money to pay for ongoing operation of schools.
Rainy-day money should be used either in a crisis or in one-time allocations to pay for things that won’t have to be paid for over and over again. If it’s used to help restore the $5.4 billion cut from schools two years ago, that same hole will have to be filled again when the Legislature meets in 2015, and again in 2017, and again in 2019, and so forth.
Burnam and others have told me it’s worth the risk that they’ll be able to come back in two years and find more stable funding. I don’t buy that.
Texas has the money this year to adequately and properly fund schools. If lawmakers choose not to do that, or if their definition of adequate funding differs from what educators or others might say, that’s their responsibility.
But it shouldn’t come from the rainy-day fund, and it shouldn’t block passage of the proposed one-time funding for water infrastructure.
So the Democrats want a deal to vote for the using the RDF to pay for water. Which begs the question, why does the GOP need the Democrats at all? Well, it’s because too many of their members don’t want to spend any money from the RDF, and their earlier scheme to fund water out of GR (General Revenue) failed. Here’s the answer, if the entire GOP caucus in the House (95 members) was for using $2 billion from the RDF to fund water, it’s entirely likely they could peel of 5 – 10 Democrats and get it passed. But the GOP is so far away from that getting all 95 R’s that they need many more Democrats then that.
And in politics, often times, to get someone to get to yes there needs to be compromise. So it’s looks totally “parisan hackish” to blame the powerless minority, when the powerful majority can’t even keep itself in check. Why is it that the Democrats are to blame and the ones that have to compromise their principals to pass Republican legislation? It makes no sense.
The blame for this lies directly with the tea party representatives, aka Perry and the wing nuts, and the voters that elected them. They are the hostage takers. Again, we have $12 billion in reserves, even with another bad budget estimate from the Comptroller, and huge needs for water, transportation, public transportation, and health care. And we’re being lead to believe that the best thing for our state is to leave that money alone, continue to neglect our priorities, and continue in the same downward spiral. Again I call BS.
It’s almost impossible to tell, as the end of a regular legislative session draws to a close, with several unfinished “priorities” still not done, how serious the talk of a special session is. At first it’s not a threat, just thrown out there for legislators to keep in the back of their mind. But if Gov. Rick Perry is serious about his criteria then, at least right now, it’s likely they’ll be back this summer.
“It should be no surprise that if folks want to go home at the end of this legislative session, send me $1.8 billion worth of tax relief, send me a balanced budget that has no fee increases for transportation and $2 billion of infrastructure for water, and everybody can go home and enjoy their summer,” he told reporters.
We know any budget he gets will be a “Texas-style” balanced budget, so the main sticking point on that right now seems to be whether the two GOP-dominated chambers can compromise among themselves on a budget.
This year, it is hung up on a matrix of interconnected decisions — funding for public schools, water and transportation; tax cuts; and whether to tap any of the $11.7 billion of available rainy-day dollars and whether to defy anti-tax and fiscal hawk groups by voting to bust a state constitutional spending cap.
One lobbyist, familiar with the Pitts-Williams blow up but declining to be identified because clients haven’t authorized him to speak about the delicate negotiations, described one possible exit strategy. Think of the remaining problems in three layers — always, with summer time talking points for politicians in mind, the lobbyist said.
On the bottom is the question of public schools, he said. If leaders undid the $4 billion of formula cuts made last session, Democrats could crow they succeeded in their main mission this session — and be forced to go along with a second-layer question: How to let Perry save face.
This could be accomplished by approving a constitutional amendment to cut business-franchise taxes by $1 billion over two years, the lobbyist said. However, House leaders do not want to use rainy-day dollars for tax cuts. And cutting the margins tax wouldn’t require a vote to bust the spending cap; it would just reduce available revenues, experts say.
The final layer would be water improvements, the lobbyist said. On this, Democrats and Republicans would have to agree to tap the rainy day fund for $2 billion and vote to bust the spending cap.
“You would hold hands and jump off the cliff together,” he said.
Some GOP leaders, though, have said fears of exceeding the spending limit are unfounded. They say voters can be persuaded that it was prudent to go beyond the limit and spend just a bit more than one-sixth of state savings to jump-start construction of new water reservoirs and pipelines, and get out in front of possible water shortages in drought-stricken Texas.
Senate leaders, meanwhile, prefer to avoid a spending-cap vote by going to the voters to approve draw-downs of rainy day money. The Senate passed a constitutional amendment to tap $5.7 billion of rainy-day dollars and use it for transportation ($2.9 billion), water ($2 billion) and public schools ($800 million). There are indications, though, that Senate leaders might give on funding schools and transportation that way. Stay tuned.
Oh did he say water. We’ll the water issue may be the toughest to finish before the session. These two from StateImpact Texas show where things stand: After Bill Falters, What’s Next for Water Funding in Texas? and Water Bills Flood the House.
And as far as Perry’s tax cut goes it’s kind of hard to tell, but it doesn’t look like either chamber has hit his magic number of $1.8 billion.
The House late Tuesday night approved $667 million in franchise tax cuts for state businesses, which Perry said Wednesday gets them “a third of the way there.”
But they might be even farther along than that, depending upon how Perry defines tax relief.
The Senate has approved a constitutional amendment to rebate $730 million in utility fees to households and businesses while the House this week passed tax credits for businesses that total about $350 million on top of the franchise tax cut.
And his threats to seem to be of much concern to legislators.
The House late Tuesday night approved $667 million in tax cuts for state businesses — but only after some of the fiercest debate of what had been a relatively harmonious session. Democrats, who were ultimately outvoted by their GOP colleagues, argued the money should go to public schools which are still reeling from $5.4 billion in cuts lawmakers approved in 2011.
Perry said of the difficult vote, “they’re a third of the way there.” Asked if that will be enough, he replied, “$1.8 (billion) will be.”
Sen. Kirk Watson of Austin, leader of the Senate Democrats, dismissed Perry’s tax-cut demands as unrealistic.
“It’s unfortunate that he would say something like that,” Watson said.
Sen. Kevin Eltife, a Tyler Republican who has been critical of the governor’s approach to water and transportation issues this session, said those should take priority over tax cuts.
“When we’re struggling to find $4 billion (per year) for roads and have to take money out of the Rainy Day Fund, I don’t know how at the same time you pass a tax cut,” Eltife said.
As for the threat of a special session, Eltife retorted: “I happen to love Austin.”
In this session there doesn’t seem to be much urgency to get anything done, more confusion then anything else. It’s as if having money to spend has baffled these “conservatives”. It’s as if the only thing they know to do with government is tear it down, they have no idea how to build it up and use it to help people. It’s a pretty simple proposition. We have money and we have needs. Use the money to pay for our needs. But that just confuses the hell out of them, and they don’t know what to do. If this keeps up they may have to waste taxpayer money on a couple of special sessions to figure it out.
Whether they get these near term items settled or not, there’s likely to be at least one special session before 2015. On either public school finance or redistricting. Some of this is posturing and bluffing. There’s still time to get what these guys perceive to be the needs of Texas finished before May 27th. Hopefully they can clear up their confusion and get something done that doesn’t hurt Texas too bad.
It can be difficult sometimes to figure out what’s really going on with The Lege. But I think this paragraph from this article, House determined to fund water plan, floating a hybrid possibility, sums it up pretty well.
To bring some conservative holdouts on board, the rest of the money in a hybrid plan could come from general revenue dollars. That would mean less money for universities, public education and nursing homes, among other things, that rely, in part, on general revenue money. Using that money could assuage enough freshmen conservatives, who oppose using rainy day fund money — or just about any other increase in spending. Still, any proposal using general revenue dollars could be a nonstarter for Democrats, depending on how unified they remain. [Emphasis added]
There it is folks, that’s the GOP’s goal in Texas. Why, when we have plenty of money in our state to pay for all of these things, would our elected leaders be hoarding money, and unwilling to pay for them? Because they believe that those things above are unworthy of support. It’s why they’re leaving $100 billion in Medicaid money on the table. They have health care and can’t understand the suffering of those who don’t.
I’ve read Speaker Joe Straus’ snark, whatever it means, but it means little to those in Texas that continue to suffer and struggle while the Rainy Day Fund just keeps getting bigger. But why this is going on is not complicated. They’re spinning and contorting themselves in all these different directions in an attempt to show that they had no other choice. When in reality they could pay for those things, if they wanted. But they have made a choice to do whatever they can to defund those things. And they’d like to believe that those who will suffer because of this decision only have themselves to blame.
These people believe that’s just the way life is. The only way to get decent medical care and fully protect yourself from financial calamity is to get rich. Really rich. It’s the catch-all answer for everything that ails you. Anyone who doesn’t has only herself to blame.
They govern by ideology. Perry has much more, “We weren’t sent (to Austin) to govern like California”.
The Williamson County Commissioners Court (WCCC) is beginning their discussion of next year’s budget. The big issues are, as always, stting the county property tax rate, county employee salaries and benefits, and more spending for a rapidly growing county. Via the RRL, County starting budget process.
Williamson County’s plans for a potential November bond election won’t affect this year’s budgeting process – which is now starting – Budget Officer Ashlie Blaylock said this week.
However, an ongoing salary and compensation study could figure into the equation, with county officials potentially granting raises based on the outcome.
For the current year, salaries and benefits account for about 63 percent of the general fund. Also included in that is raises the Commissioners Court approved last summer: $2.1 million for non-law enforcement personnel and $56,759 (3-percent raises) for the county’s 19 elected officials.
Additionally, $18.6 million went to the road-and-bridge maintenance fund.
The final budget component is the $68.2 million currently dedicated for debt service. That consists of payments made on large construction projects – such as roads and buildings – that have usually been approved by voters during bond elections.
The current budget is funded by a tax rate of 48.9 cents per $100 assessed valuation. The “average” homeowner – one who has a home with a taxable value of $180,870 – paid $891 in county taxes for the current year.
As always, population growth will remain a driving factor in the budget process, county officials say.
EMS Director Kenny Schnell told commissioners last August: “We’ve seen a 50-perent increase in call volume during the last 10 to 12 years.”
The county’s population almost doubled during that same time frame.
According to U.S. Census Bureau figures, Williamson County’s population increased from about 250,000 to approximately 422,000, between 2000 and 2010.
According to the most-recent Census figures available, the county’s 2012 population was estimated at more than 456,000.
Because of that growth, last year commissioners approved hiring three new 911 dispatchers and three new EMS paramedics.
“We’ll probably have to add more EMS [personnel] next year, too,” County Judge Dan Gattis predicted last summer.
Also tomorrow, April 10th, is the first meeting of the county Bond Committee. They are tasked with coming up with a proposal for the WCCC, that can be on the ballot in November.
The first public meeting of the committee will be held on Wednesday, April 10, 6 p.m., at the historic Williamson County Courthouse, 710 S. Main Street, Georgetown, in the Commissioners Courtroom. To view the agenda, click here.
This is your money, so pay attention. Their certainly are some needs around the county, especially one that’s growing as fast as Williamson. Interest rates are still very low, and it’s a good time to borrow, but we still must make sure that it’s for needed items and not frivolous give-aways to politically connected contractors.
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